To remedy the low student attendance at school forums, perhaps Palo Alto High School should host a forum to ask for student input on how to improve attendance. Alternatively, the Board could make a rushed decision to link every student’s GPA to attendance, based on the feedback of a small but vocal minority.
Jokes aside, students have been clamoring for additional student input on educational decisions since the Board made its controversial decision on Nov. 1 to change how weighted grades were reported. Students opposed to weighted grades complained that the decision happened without thorough consideration of student opinion, instead relying on poorly advertised Board meetings primarily attended by students and parents in favor of weighted grades.
This wasn’t the first time a decision was made with limited student input. On April 21, 2015 the Palo Alto High School Unified School District (PAUSD) made the decision to stop offering academic zero period classes at both high schools despite the opposition of 90.82 percent of students.
Understandably, students began to clamor for greater influence and representation in academic decisions made by the Board and PAUSD. Consequently, The Campanile has written many editorials asking for greater student input on topics ranging from staff tenure to homework policies.
We are happy to report our voice has been heard. Student input is being collected by the administration on a variety of issues through student forums and online surveys. From Jan. 1 to March 16 of this year, there have been five student forums that asked for student input on important topics such as the bell schedule and weighted grades.
Unfortunately, there has been consistently low student attendance — typically fewer than 30 students attend a given forum.
This is troubling because the perspectives of this small sample may not reflect the views of the entire campus. Moreover, the low attendance rate may discourage administration from holding additional forums to collect student input. The probable result is that, despite dozens of angry Facebook posts, editorials and letters, PAUSD will eventually revert back to the way it originally made academic decisions — with limited student input.
After two years of struggle, the District wants to listen to student voices, but students are not speaking up. This is likely due to the way the feedback is collected — few students are willing to devote an hour or more to attend a forum with dozens of people where their individual opinion may be lost.
Our solution is to hold the mini “forums” in mandatory advisory meetings. The Campanile has previously called for improving advisory, with a key focus on holding more meaningful, team-building meetings. Advisory is a chronically under.utilized period, and it has the opportunity to collect student feedback in small, familiar groups.
Each student’s voice could actually be heard, and the teachers could send their notes to the Board or District afterwards. If even half of the advisories classrooms participate (a single student grade has over 400 students), then the aggregate feedback will be much more substantial and comprehensive than the feedback currently given.
Another solution would be to administer mandatory surveys during class time. This process was previously used to administer teacher feedback and student wellness surveys. We feel that this process would also provide a greater amount of student feedback with less effort made on the District’s part.
We hope the relevant Paly administration members take note of our feedback and work to improve how student forums are conducted. As evidenced by the controversies in 2015 and 2016, students want to be heard. There simply needs to be a better system to collect their opinions.